Soul Of America






 Return to Florence Guide Overview



Lysa Allman-Baldwin
Sr. Travel Writer

Lysa is constantly captivated by the beauty and history of Florence, on each visit immersing herself in the city's wealth of art, hundreds of historic and impressive churches, bridges, piazzas, museums, medieval towers and a great deal more that reflect significant events and eras of Florentine, Italian and European history. She says that, "Everything from the people, the countryside, the culture and particularly the food here is absolutely spectacular!"


Ponte Vecchio Bridge



    The Soul of any city is defined by what makes it tick. In the case of Florance, an exhilarating amalgamation of its denizens, history, culture, cuisine, music and social atmosphere, all spun together with a handful of intangible elements that make it distinguishable from all other cities in the world.

    The hub of the European Renaissance, Firenze (called "Florence" in English) was originally founded by the Romans in the 1st Century BC. By fate and location luck it has become one of the most wonderful cities in Europe. Its claim to fame is its architectural and artistic prominence, stemming from these early influences dating back to the 13th Century when many of the world's greatest painters, architects, sculptors, writers and other artisans such as Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Cellini, Brunelleschi, Botticelli and numerous others created and imparted their masterpieces here. From its impressive statuary to the churches, cathedrals and towers, all constructed over six centuries ago without the benefit of modern technology or machinery, most still retain their original brilliance and grandeur and are undeniably unmatched since that time.

    Over the centuries Florence has also preserved its medieval ambiance and charm. The city is inherently beautiful, from the centro historico (historic center) to the picturesque undulating countryside. Every thoroughfare, delightful side street and quaint alleyway is filled with the aromas of fresh baked breads, spicy herbs, cured and marinating meats and pungent aromatic coffee wafting about this walking city. Immerse yourself while navigating the tiny, primarily pedestrian and sans sidewalk cobblestone streets originally designed to accommodate horse and buggy, or while strolling through the numerous historic piazzas (plazas) awash with locals and tourists from around the globe, coupled with the omnipresent din of the zooming motor scooters -- the preferred mode of transportation here.

    You could literally spend weeks leisurely acquainting yourself with some of the city's masters and masterpieces at noteworthy landmarks like the Museo Nazionale del Bargello (Bargello Museum), considered Florence's foremost sculpture museum; The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) built across the Arno River in 1345 and the only one of many here spared by the Germans during World War II; Galleria Dell'Accademia (Academy Gallery), where you'll find Michelangelo's David; the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world's great museums; and Santa Maria della Carmine, one of many impressive and historically significant churches in Florence, among many, many other attractions.

    Italy takes great pride in their Duomos (cathedrals), and many cities have several which reflect significant eras of their regional history. The most well-known here is the Duomo of Florence, built in stages over several hundred years beginning near the end of the 13th Century. The nave is a beautiful structure of magnificent white and green marble, accentuated with a feat of engineering -- a massive dome designed by Brunelleschi. Venture upstairs for a closer look at the beautiful fresco paintings on the dome's interior, then climb the twisty, narrow stairway up and out for a breathtaking and dramatic panoramic view of Florence and the surrounding areas. It is well worth it!

    No trip to Florence would not be complete without a visit to the Palazzo Pitti & Giardino Boboli (Pitti Palace & Boboli Gardens), situated in the Oltrarno (the other side of the Arno River). The Pitti Palace was originally the official residence of the Medici family in the 16th Century and a few centuries later became the royal palace of the Savoy dynasty. Today it is home to eight museums, the most famous of which is the Palatina Gallery for its collection of paintings.

    Situated behind the Palace is the Boboli Gardens, one of the most breathtaking gardens one could ever behold in their lifetime. An Italian Renaissance garden, the Boboli Gardens steadily rises up toward the Italian countryside, each step along the way filled with truly magnificent antique and Renaissance statuary, gurgling fountains, handfuls of groves and terraces, towering cypress and other variety of trees, verdant flowers, box hedges, winding pathways, an artificial lake, 18th century coffeehouse, amphitheater and much more, together forming an extensive open-air museum that is almost indescribable.

    The San Lorenzo Flea Market and Mercato Centrale (Central Market) are world renown. Central to the area is the San Lorenzo Church, founded in 393 A.D. and now the oldest church in the city. The Flea Market is unlike no other, teaming with hundreds of vendors (many of them African immigrants) hawking their wares ranging from high quality (and knock-off) leather purses, shoes, jackets, belts and gloves, to fine gold, silver and Florentine stone jewelry, hats, Italian trinkets and memorabilia, to the routine t-shirts, aprons and other tourist items.

    Italians live to eat and meals are major productions (although very effortless for the Italians) whether at home or in a restaurant, which is where the Mercato Centrale comes into play. Florentines and visitors alike flock here daily to this huge bi-level warehouse filled with vendors selling a bevy of fresh meats, cheeses, pestos and sauces, breads, fruits and vegetables, flowers, Italian delicacies, wine, olive oils and balsamic vinegars and more. Everything is exceptionally fresh and it shows in the taste. This is a great place to pick up a few items for a leisurely picnic lunch later in the day (the market is only open from the wee hours until 1:00 pm).

    Accommodations are numerous in Florence, ranging from quaint bed and breakfast inns to guesthouses and both boutique and large-scale hotels. The Dei Mori Bed & Breakfast and Badia Guest House is housed in a 19th Century building and situated in the heart of town. Despite its location, once you cross the threshold of the massive street door you are instantly engulfed in peace and tranquility. Originally a private residential flat, it was originally transformed into a five-room (some with private marble and tiled baths) B&B with comfortable beds, subdued yet lovely decor and beautiful original ceilings dating from about 1850. The inn itself has a beautiful hardwood floor foyer accented by colorful area rugs and soft recessed lighting, French windows which open onto a lovely patio overlooking a typical Florentine courtyard, and a comfortably appointed living room with oversized couch and chair, side tables, bookshelves full of travel books and novels, plus a CD player where guests are welcome to relax, enjoy the daily Continental breakfast and swap stories with their hosts -- Danny, Frank, Peter and Suzanne -- or the other guests.

    Over the years, the Dei Mori has expanded, it now encompasses another floor called the Badia Wing, and the owners have opened a guesthouse -- La Massa -- situated on the crest of a hill on private wooded grounds extending over an acre in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. A stay at either location is a slice of heaven on earth.

    Resplendent with friendly accommodating people, a wealth of history, beautiful, historic and impressive architecture, breathtaking views, supreme cuisine, wonderful shopping and European charm, Florence is a city unlike any other.


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